Mat Coch writes:
It was an evasive Martin Whitmarsh who spoke with journalists ahead of this weekend's Australian Grand Prix. The McLaren Team Principal just about fended off questions over the Woking squad's future engine supply during the first Vodafone McLaren Mercedes phone-in of the year, frequently veering off topic as he stuck to a seemingly pre-prepared script rather than answering the specific questions posed.
"Since 1966 we've won 182 Grand Prix; that's more than any other team in that period in time," he said in response to a question over his own future, and whether a lack of success this year placed it in jeopardy.
"We started last year with the quickest car, we ended the season with the quickest car," he added, seemingly oblivious to the actual question. "We had some issues where we underperformed in the middle of the year (but) came out of it with seven wins. Clearly we want to do more but I think we're all focussed at the moment on the championship that's ahead of us."
His discomfort seemed to continue when attempting to swat away suggestions McLaren could switch to Honda power. There has been a great deal of speculation over the last week, and with such an obvious discussion topic one would have expected Whitmarsh to be rather more solid in his defence.
"I can categorically say we're with them for some time," he managed when asked if the team would remain with current supplier Mercedes-Benz until the end of 2015. "We have a contract that covers the next three seasons at the moment and we will certainly go into next season with Mercedes Benz. We'll see. We've had a long, successful partnership with them."
However, he seemed to rally when asked about the future of Paddy Lowe, the Woking squad's former Technical Director who recently handed in his notice. "We punctuated his role in everything but we've got an open mind," he explained of Lowe's 'redeployment' within the team. "I met Paddy on Thursday. We had a discussion, and obviously I'm just off to Australia, but I'll talk to Paddy again afterwards."
McLaren appears to have plans to use its former technical head in an active role for the duration of 2013. It's a canny if somewhat unorthodox decision if that does indeed turn out to be the case. With major rule changes due for 2014 much of the development work for this season's car will ultimately prove redundant. Instead of having Lowe sit a year out he can be put to work on the current car with the team safe in the knowledge he is gaining nothing of real value for his next role.
Taking an aggressive approach for 2013, Lowe's input could still play a critical role in unlocking the potential of the new car. Where many teams have simply evolved last year's car, with an eye on 2014, McLaren has instead opted for a completely fresh approach.
"Clearly we've taken some risks in changing the car from last year," Whitmarsh explained. "We finished the year the last few races undoubtedly with the quickest car.
"It would have been very easy to have continued to develop that car. We could have made it quicker still for the start of this year."
The squad is gambling that the new approach will herald greater potential than simply continuing to develop the 2012 car.
"You have to be competitive over twenty, or this year 19 races," Whitmarsh reasoned. "You've got to be able to develop it so we've given ourselves a platform which is new to ensure that we've got development opportunity over the season but in so doing it makes it more challenging.
It's a challenge Whitmarsh assures us the team is up for, even if some of his answers weren't.